Turn Your Challenges Into Victories
It’s been two years since Victorious Living carried my story. In case you didn’t get a chance to read the Spring 2015 issue, here’s a brief description of what happened. I was trimming trees at a local church in Central Florida. I was in a high-reach bucket when suddenly and unexpectedly, power from nearby utility lines arched over to the steel bucket I was standing in. In an instant, 14,000 volts of electricity surged through my right hand and circuited through my chest to my left hand. Back and forth it flowed before exiting my skull in two places, leaving behind an exposed chest cavity and fourth- and fifth-degree burns on my arms. That brief moment in time changed my life and the life of my family forever.
Since my story was covered in the magazine, I’ve experienced incredible milestones and difficult challenges, all intertwined with countless blessings. With God’s help, I’ve undergone ten additional surgeries, witnessed the birth of my second son, and had the opportunity to share my story across the country with people from all walks of life.
I have been especially overwhelmed by the heartfelt response I’ve received from inmates who’ve read my story in this magazine. For those of you who have written in response, thank you for your love and support. It has meant so much.
Recently while in Ace Hardware, I was approached by a guy who I could tell was excited to meet me. Since water sports are popular in Florida, I assumed he recognized me from my professional wakeskate years. I was moved to tears when he told me he’d just finished a five-year stretch in prison and that my story in Victorious Living had helped him get through some incredibly tough challenges. I invited him to come hear my whole story that weekend at my church, as I was scheduled to speak that weekend. He came, and I’ve seen him at church many times since.
I was excited to hear how my story had impacted him. I must admit, when Kristi asked me to share, I wasn’t sure how my story would resonate with many of the readers of Victorious Living. A large majority are inmates, and they face daily challenges and struggles I’ll never face. They know more about dark times and challenges than most ever will, including me.
I realized, however, that no matter who came across my story, everyone needed the same thing: hope. Whether you’re a parent struggling with a difficult child, an adult caring for an aging parent, an athlete struggling to achieve your dreams, an inmate confined in prison, or someone lying in a hospital bed, looking at what appears to be a bleak future—we all need hope. And I decided to share my story, in hopes that just one life—maybe yours—would be touched.
We all have struggles; they just come in different forms. Some are broad and ongoing, some immediate and specific—but at the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat. We all find ourselves in places we don’t want to be. Places that hurt. Places that challenge us beyond what we imagine we can bear.
I’d like to share what helped me move during my biggest struggle.
I never dreamed I’d be electrocuted. I never imagined I’d be lying in a hospital bed barely clinging to life. But there I was, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I was where I was.
My friend, John Maxwell, puts it this way, “Wherever you are, there you are.” At face value, the principle of this statement seems so obvious. Of course we are where we are. You might be saying, “No duh! I know I’m in prison. I know I’m without a job. I know I’m lying in a hospital bed. I know I’m homeless. I know I’m without a spouse.” Whatever it is—there you are.
But have you accepted where you are? Have you come to grips with the fact that you are where you are?
These words are so simple to say, but they aren’t easy to live out. It’s not easy to accept the facts of life and face its challenges, but doing so will change your life. This is practical step number one for moving forward.
Accept Where You Are
Where I am, there I am became my foundation when I was told I was dying and needed to say goodbye to my wife and family. At that moment, I had to come to grips with the fact that I was in the hospital, severely burned, and clinging to my life. I had to accept it. I couldn’t hold on to the past, dwell on “what ifs” or “if onlys,” or worry about my future. I had to focus on where I was right then and there.
On that hospital bed in indescribable pain, I had two options: I could either be an angry, miserable, defeated person who gives up on life; or I could choose to hope against all odds. I could choose to embrace where I was, to stay strong, and do what I needed to do to move forward from that place.
Weighing those options, I realized being bitter and angry wouldn’t stop the surgeries. It wouldn’t stop the pain that resulted from the daily scrubbing of raw, open muscle, tissue, and bone. That wouldn’t accomplish anything other than my own defeat. It would tempt me to accept the lies that I was a burden, that I’d never get better, that I’d never see my child born, never walk again, never hold my wife’s hand again, or never go outside. It would cause me to accept that I was destined to suffer and die in that hospital bed. I couldn’t do that.
So I chose to hope. I chose to spend every day, no matter how many days I had left, pouring myself back into my loved ones and those trying to help me medically. I chose to fight with everything I had. And if the doctors were right and I died, at least I would be remembered for fighting till the very last minute. And most importantly, they would know I’d held strong to my faith until the end.
Isn’t that what we are called to do? And isn’t that the heart of the gospel? A gospel that is also simple but not easy.
Growing up, I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ so much that I almost brushed it off. It was such an easy concept—God sent His Son to die for my sin; if I trust in Jesus, I inherit eternal life (John 3:16). But even for Jesus, walking out His surrendered life and facing a brutal death at the hands of the very ones He loved was not easy. It cost God and Jesus everything.
Likewise, walking out the Christian life here on earth will not be easy either. For any of us. We will experience trials and tribulations, but even in the midst of them, we can experience kingdom living. We can have peace, joy, purpose, contentment, love, acceptance, and power, despite the challenges! But victory begins with accepting “where I am, there I am” and then determining to bring glory to Christ in that place.
The God of the universe humbly came to earth, took on flesh, and died a criminal’s death on a cross so that I could have eternal life and an abundant life here on earth. What more can I ask of Him? How can I not spend my life here on earth giving Him glory in every situation?
I never processed the true power and depth the gospel has to help me on this earth until I faced my own mortality. Any chains of pride or entitlement I had were broken in that moment. There’s no time or need for self-pity. What are fifty years in a burned, broken body when I have an eternity of wholeness to look forward to?
Once I realized how tiny the blip my life actually is on eternal radar, I determined to live life to the fullest and give God glory through it all. I fought for my life and clung to my faith, and as I did, I saw God do amazing things. He turned my obstacles into opportunities. He took my misery and gave me a ministry that is touching thousands of lives. And He can do the same for you.
Because of how God helped me, I have dedicated my life to helping others overcome their challenges, their “burns,” so to speak. That’s why I launched my speaking company, Beyond the Burn.
We all have burns. They just come in different forms and arise from various circumstances. My burns are visible, displayed for the world to see. Other burns are hidden. Yet the answer to all our burns is the same: healing comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Then, in His strength, we take ownership of our situation, refusing to cast blame. That’s the next practical step.
I heard a message recently about the man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years (John 5:1–15). Seeing the crippled man, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” Something tells me this was another loaded, “simple but not easy” question!
This man didn’t respond with a quick yes or no answer. Instead, he told Jesus why he couldn’t get well. He listed excuses about why his condition wasn’t his fault. Truthfully, many of us would respond the same way. It’s so much easier to cast blame than to take ownership.
But Jesus wasn’t asking the man how he got where he was; He was asking if the man wanted to get well. If he did, Jesus said, he had to take action. He would need to take up his mat and walk. He would have to cast aside the things he was holding on to (in this case, blame) and start taking steps to his healing.
In the hospital, I answered Jesus’s question early on. “Yes! I want to get well!” I took ownership of my situation. I could have easily blamed so many people for my condition. But it wouldn’t have brought healing. To get out of that bed, I had to cooperate with God in the healing process, no matter how hard that would be.
I knew there would be long, hard days where I would have to push myself through great physical pain. There would be daily setbacks and often very little evidence of progress. But I had no choice. If I wanted to get well, I’d have to face al challenges. I’d have to do my part. That’s another step.
Do Your Part
We all have a part to play in our recovery process. Refusing to allow bitterness and blame is a huge part of our healing. It doesn’t matter who is at fault or how we got to where we are. The only question that matters is this: “Do you want to get well?” You can remain bitter or get better.
If you want to get well, you must face challenges that are hard—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—all the while standing strong in your faith, serving others, and letting God be glorified through your life. I know…easy but hard. Probably sounds impossible, but it isn’t. Remember: you aren’t in this fight alone. God is with you every step of the way. He will help you do what you can’t do on your own. And in your weakest moments, you’ll find His strength is more than enough.
My fight continues daily. It will for many years to come. It seems I’m in a constant cycle. I take one step forward only to get knocked two steps back. I see progress, only to be told I need another surgery. But between the trials, there are incredible moments.
Like today, when I took my son on a bike ride. And the other night, I had dinner with friends. Tomorrow, my family and I are going to a conference where I will share my story with hundreds of people.
In moments like these, I see the light. I see the good that is provided in my situation and the truth that God is involved in every detail of my life. I see how He works every situation out for good, and I’m reminded of His great love for me. I see God’s blessing of faithfulness. These are the truths that I cling to when challenges set in. And that is practical step number three.
Never Forget in the Darkness What You Have Learned in the Light
Think back to when you were a child. The lights are on in your room, and everything is okay. But then it’s time for bed, and the lights are turned out. A few minutes into the darkness, you are sure you hear a monster in your closet. Your heart pounds as you fumble for the light switch. But as soon as the light comes on, you discover the truth—you’re okay. And there are no monsters.
Friend, you’re okay. God has you in the palm of His hand, and He is faithful to protect you in the light and in the dark. He is the same today, yesterday, and forever. He never fails. You can hold fast to this truth, no matter how dark or painful challenges become.
Written by Matt Manzari
Photo by Handsel Reid